Mining project puts Interior secretary’s ethics pledge to the test

By: Ben Lefebvre, Politico, June 11, 2019

The Mid-Continent quarry has sat for decades in the hills of western Colorado, where kayakers paddle the Roaring Fork River and tourists soak in the natural hot springs. But now a proposed expansion of the 16-acre limestone mine has kicked off a battle that reaches all the way to the office of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

The mine owner, Rocky Mountain Resources, is led by CEO Chad Brownstein, whose father chairs the major lobbying firm where Bernhardt worked for a decade. Bernhardt’s old firm is working for RMR and pushing the mining proposal on two fronts, according to interviews and POLITICO’s review of public records — pressing local government leaders to endorse the project, while meeting in D.C. with Interior staff who could decide the expansion’s fate.

Bernhardt promised nearly two years ago to recuse himself from decisions involving his former firm’s clients. But that ethics pledge expires in August, freeing him to work on those issues. An Interior spokesperson would only refer to that pledge when asked whether he’d recused himself from the mine’s proposal, and declined to say what action he may take when the pledge expires.

Just the sheer lobbying firepower Rocky Mountain Resources is bringing to the project may be enough to pressure Interior employees, said Daniel Stevens, executive director at the watchdog group Campaign for Accountability.

Brownstein Hyatt “has a lot of pull, and when it asks Interior to jump, Interior jumps,” [Stevens] said. “Does every other small firm applying for a mining permit run to the top lobbying firm in the country to work on their behalf? Seems a little disproportionate here.”

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